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What is Neuropsychiatry?

By T. Broderick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Neuropsychiatry is a field of medicine that deals with mental disorders caused through diseases of the nervous system. The field is a combination of neurology and psychiatry, two disciplines linked by the common training given to physicians in both fields. Neuropsychiatry assumes that the brain and mind are one, and that successfully treating mental disorders depends on treating the biological cause. Despite increasing support in the medical field for neuropsychiatry, many physicians and medical researchers still believe that neurology and psychology should remain separate.

The modern concept of neuropsychiatry was developed in the early 2000s through a series of articles that appeared in prominent neurology and psychiatry periodicals. The authors of these articles called for combining psychiatry and neurology into a single field. Though specific opinions varied among authors, a common theme was that due to the advances in medical technology over the past century, medical research has proved a strong link between the brain and the mind. Another argument that appeared in multiple articles was that the two disciplines were already linked due to the common training both specialties provided to physicians.

Proponents of neuropsychiatry claim that a single discipline would provide many benefits to patients suffering mental disorders. For example, advances in medical treatment would appear faster if research focused solely on the neurological causes of mental illness. Also, patients suffering from mental illness would have less confusion about the causes of their disease. A side benefit, proponents claim, would be that societal stigma of those with a mental illness would lessen if mental illness was classified as a physical disorder.

Though neuropsychiatry focuses on treating the biological causes of mental disorders, another supposed benefit of combining neurology and psychiatry is that the process of diagnosing a mental disorder becomes much simpler. The theory is that a physician trained in both fields can identify the biological and societal factors that influence the development of mental illness. For example, eating disorders, though based in genetics, can appear due to the societal expectations for beauty displayed in television and magazines. A physician who is able to spot either of these signs can make a quicker diagnosis; the patient begins treatment as soon as possible.

Though neuropsychiatry seems promising, a large bloc of the medical community still supports the separate fields of neurology and psychiatry. The primary reason for their opposition is that even though medical science has started to close the gap between the two fields, science has not yet genetically mapped any mental illness. Neuropsychiatry can not become viable, these physicians argue, until the genetic basis of mental illness is better understood.

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Discussion Comments

By discographer — On Dec 09, 2014

I have met people who don't want to see a doctor about their psychological problems because they don't want others to think of them as "crazy." There is so much social stigma about this. Physical disorders are often thought as no big deal, but psychological issues somehow signify something negative about a person's personality. And it should not be that way.

I wish psychiatric and psychological problems were categorized as physical. So many people who were afraid before would seek help.

By stoneMason — On Dec 08, 2014

@fBoyle-- I'm not an expert on this topic but I don't think that neuropsychiatry dwells just on the neurological part. That's why it's "neuropsychiatry," to bring the two fields together to help diagnose and treat psychiatric conditions with neurological roots.

I'm not even sure if depression belongs in this category. I do know that some mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are genetic and due to neurological malfunctions. So in terms of diagnosis and treatment of these conditions, neuropsychiatry is the best field.

By fBoyle — On Dec 08, 2014

I'm not a proponent of combining neurology and psychiatry either. I think that considering these as one will encourage physical treatment of chemical imbalances in the brain rather than psychological treatment through therapy. And this has already happened. In most countries in the world, when we see a psychiatrists with depression symptoms, we're immediately given an antidepressant rather than being sent to therapy. Some doctors combine both and that's ideal but many do not. I think it is not a good idea to dwell on just the neurological aspect of mental disease. I think the psychological part needs to be forefront.

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